All in the family: Angola president picks eldest daughter to head state oil firm, western firms scramble for contracts


Isabel dos Santos, 43, is Africa's richest woman, while her brother already runs the country's sovereign wealth fund.

ANGOLAN president Jose Eduardo dos Santos has appointed his daughter and Africa’s richest woman, Isabel, as the chairwoman of the state oil company, Sonangol.

Dos Santos, 73, fired the company’s entire board and replaced it with new executives as part of a plan to restructure the business so it runs more efficiently, he said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday. 

Paulino Fernando de Carvalho Geronimo was appointed chief executive officer, it said. Angola vies with Nigeria’s as Africa’s biggest oil producer.

Angola’s economy has been hit by the fall in the price of oil, which accounts for about two-thirds of state revenue, and the government is seeking funding from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and China. 

The president’s eldest daughter, Isabel dos Santos, 43, has business interests spanning mobile phones to banking in both Angola and Portugal. The move tightens the grip over the economy held by Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who’s ruled the country since 1979. One of his sons heads the state sovereign wealth fund.

“I don’t think it’s a huge surprise,”  Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, near Cape Town, said by phone Friday. 

“It’s just how the Angolan government tends to operate when it comes to base issues like strategic oil and the sovereign wealth fund. President dos Santos tends to make sure that the people in charge of those are very close to him.”

‘Ensure transparency’

The new team aims to make Sonangol more competitive internationally by reducing costs, Isabel dos Santos said in an e-mailed statement. The company will seek to improve profitability and the dividends it pays to the state, she said.

The board plans to “ensure transparency” in the company’s management and apply global corporate-governance standards and will improve relations with suppliers and other partners, she said.

“Isabel’s appointment demonstrates the strategic importance of these reforms for the presidency and that the president wanted someone he fully trusted to lead the reforms,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at the Chatham House research group in London, said in e-mailed comments.

Boston Consulting Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Vieira de Almeida & Associados have been picked to advise the board on the execution of its strategy, Isabel dos Santos said.

“In this day and age, I don’t think leaders in countries like Angola should be appointing their children to head key parts of the economy and key parts of government,” Van Staden said. 

“I think it will be perceived as very negative and I think there will be some fallout for them from this.” (Bloomberg)

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